Why is a Tampa Bay Bucs‘ fan to believe that his team’s defense will be better this year than last year’s 25th-ranked unit.
Easy. Linebacker Kwon Alexander.
At least, that’s where defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier starts when he talks about the improvement of the Bucs’ defense, with a fourth-round draft pick who quickly seized the position over free agent Bruce Carter. Last Saturday night, it was Alexander’s open-field tackle of quarterback Josh McCown that left Bucs fans talking.
“I think Kwon really helps us improve and I think our safety position is better than it was,” Frazier said Tuesday. “The familiarity of our players with what we are asking them to do – the techniques, the scheme. You don’t have to go through the introductory phase that we went through a year ago. I think that as much as anything – the experience of the system – should help our defense and hopefully we will have some guys step up like Jacquies Smith being able to take another step, T.J. Fatinikun being able to take another step forward. That would help our defense. I think adding Henry Melton inside should help our defense. If he has to play outside he can do that, but he has made the Pro Bowl as an inside player. Experience and then just adding a couple more guys should help us to improve.”
Still, fans love new. And they love middle-linebackers.
“The middle linebacker position in a 4-3 [defense] is so, so important,” Frazier said. “When you find a guy who you think has a chance to fill that role, it instantly upgrades your defense. We think we identified the guy who fits that mold for us. He’s young, he doesn’t have a lot of experience and there are going to be some growing pains along the way but over time we feel like we plugged a hole in our defense. It’s a key component of our defense – the middle linebacker position – and that helps you believe that you have improved because of that.”
Alexander isn’t the entire answer, however. Frazier admitted the pass rush has to be better.
“No question,” Frazier said. “No matter the system in our league, if you are not able to harass the quarterback it will be a long day on defense. You have to find ways. In our case we would like to be able to do with four and hopefully we have the four that can get that done. Otherwise you have to start mixing it up with pressure and so on. That can expose your corners. It does start with being able to rush the quarterback, without question.”
The Bucs cut cornerback Leonard Johnson Wednesday, and they hosted former Bears’ Pro Bowl corner Tim Jennings. There was no word yet if the Bucs were interested.
Tampa Bay has yet to settle on its nickel back, however, which is vital when it is considered how many times an opponent goes to a multiple-receiver set.
“[It’s a] critical position,” Frazier said. “In a lot of ways that guy is a starter on your defense with all the multiple wide receiver sets you get today. He plays an extended period of time. Unfortunately Leonard [Johnson] gets injured. We knew we weren’t going to have him for a while. Some other guys have to step up. That gives Isaiah Frey a chance. It gives Sterling Moore a chance. Those guys will probably be the primary guys competing for the job.”
Bucs’ defensive tackle Gerald McCoy likes what he has seen out of Alexander, too.
“He loves the game, loves to run, loves to hit,” McCoy said. “There was a play we watched on film where he was all over the place. You’ve seen him. He was just trying to hit something. If you were in his way he was trying to take you out. You love to have that behind you. Whether he is a rookie or whether he is a five, 10-year vet, it doesn’t matter. Just having a guy like that on the field is going to be huge for us.”